29 June 2017



Mmmm, yummy. This magnificent historical biographical film is the cinematic equivalent of a fabulous big box of luxury chocolates. The good stuff now, mind, not the cheap-o own brand crap from the little shop in the petrol station, haha.

It's the work of legendary director Luchino Visconti, who suffered a non-fatal stroke while he was filming it. It's the most lavish, opulent and deliciously grandiose historical biopic I've ever seen, hence the analogy of choccies for the eyes. It's a good job that choccies for the eyes don't contain any calories though, otherwise fans of Visconti's extravagant works would all be as fat as fools today...!

It's the story of the reign of King Ludwig the Second of Bavaria (1945-1886). He reigned from 1864 till the year of his death. He was an odd fish, by all accounts, though not unlikeable. In the film, in fact, he's a really sympathetic character, and the people of Bavaria seemed not to object to him too much as a king. He was not without his quirks, though.

It's a film of two halves, each about two hours long. The first half shows a young and extremely handsome Ludwig ascending to the throne of Bavaria. As soon as he's crowned, his mum and courtiers and statesmen all expect him to get married and produce the all-important heir. Ludwig shows no inclination to do this, however.

He seems more interested in gadding about with his friend, the older and married Empress of Austria, the beautiful Elisabeth, than in settling down. Eventually, however, he yields to pressure and agrees to marry Elisabeth's younger sister, Sophie. 

This was always going to be super-awkward, though, as the young and impressionable Ludwig fancies himself in love with Elisabeth, who's clearly bored and unhappy with her own life and obviously finds it amusing to tinker with Ludwig's heart a bit to take her mind off her own problems.

Ludwig's mum and the whole court is thrilled skinny that the thoughtless young King is finally showing signs that he's willing to straighten up and fly right, but their hopes are dashed again when Ludwig breaks it off with Sophie... for good. So much for straightening up and flying right...! Maybe it's not all it's cracked up to be, anyway.

Ludwig is remembered today as the guy who commissioned the building of many of the stunningly beautiful castles of Bavaria and funded their decoration and general beautification, at, not unnaturally, enormous expense. It drove his ministers of government crazy that he was so free with money, spending at the rate of knots to build his castles and fund the arts, of which he was a staunch patron.

He especially favoured the composer Richard Wagner, who was not a great favourite of the Bavarian people. He was known to be a political radical, a philanderer who ended up marrying his mistress and a spendthrift who was constantly on the run from his many creditors.

In the film, Wagner's marvellously played by Trevor Howard of BRIEF ENCOUNTER and MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY fame (with Marlon Brando as Fletcher Christian to Howard's Captain Bligh).He looks truly resplendent in that dressing-gown on Christmas morning as he surprises his wife and former mistress with an orchestra on the stairs of their home, playing lovely classical music for her delicate shell-like ears only.

Yes, Wagner was quite the big spender. He benefited greatly, financially and fame-wise, from his close association with the unstintingly generous King Ludwig, without whom some of Wagner's most famous operas may not have seen the light of day.

Richard Wagner was, incidentally, the favourite composer/musician of a certain Adolf Hitler, who ordered his music played at Nazi events and maybe- maybe- even in concentration camps as a way of exposing inmates to German 'national music.' Some folks are adamant that this last didn't happen. One could kind of imagine its happening, though. 

No doubt Wagner's anti-semitic views would have appealed to the short-statured dictator as well. If they'd ever met (an impossibility as Wagner died six years before Hitler was born), they might have had much to discuss. Wagner's anti-semitism and Nazi associations mean that the performance of his music in the State of Israel is a source of some controversy today.

Anyway, King Ludwig loved the arts, the theatre and music and his legacy is as much cultural as it is architectural. Sadly, though, people tend to remember you more for the weird stuff you did than the good things. That's typical of people, innit? Here's some of the weird stuff.

For one thing, he was known to have homosexual tendencies, which is by no means odd by today's standards but which, back then, was the type of thing you kept to yourself if you could for fear of the harsh judgement of others and even reprisals. 

Locking himself away in his fantastic castles surrounded only by good-looking young male servants and theatre actors in the film's second half probably wasn't the best way to keep his inclinations a secret, haha. It's possible he never fully engaged in homosexual sex with other males, though, preferring maybe to just look and admire rather than touch.

He did certainly make various attractive male actors recite Shakespeare and other works for him privately and at great length, and seemingly the poor exhausted actors wilted long before Ludwig's desire to be constantly entertained ever flagged...!

Helmut Griem does a great job of playing Count Durchkeim, a genuine friend of Ludwig's who only wants the best for him. Helmut Griem, of course, is the handsome fellow who insinuates himself between Sally Bowles (Liza Minelli) and Brian Roberts (Michael York) in the superb movie CABARET, in which the terrifying rise to power of the Nazi Party is cleverly shown through the songs performed at the rather seedy Kit-Kat Club. 

Do they still make Kit-Kats, the chocolate bar, I wonder? When I think of all the cups of tea I've consumed without benefit of a nearby Kit-Kat for dunking, I could cry. I really could.

Anyway, Ludwig wasn't really a good King as far as getting involved in politics and stuff went. He was much more interested, as I've said, in art and culture and beauty in whatever form it took. His ministers despaired of him and in the end, they took drastic steps to remove poor Ludwig from the office of King forever and supposedly protect him from himself...

Even though Ludwig's life and death are, of course, a matter of public record, I won't tell you how the film ends in case this is the first you're hearing about Ludwig, who was known as The Mad King, The Swan King (see his underground cavern for more details!) and The Fairytale King for his many eccentricities and idiosyncrasies.

His death was mysterious and very, very sad. Over the years a cult of conspiracy has grown up around it too, with some people refusing to accept the popular verdict at the time and coming to their own more sinister conclusions. His love life has been the subject of much speculation, also, leading to the production of a three-book manga series on the subject, believe it or not.

This stunning Italian-language recreation of Ludwig's reign and death, complete with marvellous costumes and some of the most lavish fixtures and fittings you'll ever see in your life, is out now on DVD and Blu-Ray from the good folks over at ARROW ACADEMY.

It's about four hours long in all, so it's a good long watch and great value for money. It comes complete with some terrific extra features, including a new interview with Helmut Berger (he plays Ludwig!) and an hour-long documentary portrait of Luchino Visconti, which features interviews with Burt Lancaster and the divine Claudia Cardinale among others.

Enjoy the film, anyway, and don't forget that I compared it earlier to the posh choccies you get from the expensive choccie shops on Valentine's Day or when your hubby or boyfriend's been cheating and they want to buy you a 'guilt' present.

LUDWIG is a delight, truly. It's the richest of rich confectioneries for the eyes but, unlike in boxes of chocs in crappy real life, there's no Purple One for you to ostracise and leave behind until one day you just eat it because it's still sitting there accusingly in the box and it'll go to waste otherwise. LUDWIG, if we're still sticking to the chocolates analogy, is comprised wholly of the ones you always eat first. Magic.


Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, film blogger and movie reviewer. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, womens' fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra's books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:


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